Selling Joy

Chaos theory is the science of surprises. It examines sensitive systems that are unpredictable and out of our control. Its most known concept, the Butterfly Effect, states that small changes in initial conditions in one state can result in large differences in a later state. We observe this phenomenon in nature and in humankind: a butterfly flapping its wings in China can lead to a hurricane in New Mexico; careful diplomacy can prevent war; asking the right questions can lead to a great discovery; a chance encounter can save a life. Our simple acts of kindness can have remarkable effects on humanity.

Diana-Marie Bombardieri spreads joy in Toronto by sharing her craft. She is the owner of Cards Made Beautiful, a boutique business that sells handmade cards for all occasions. She creates her own unique designs, and even if a card has the same core elements, she changes the materials or colours used so that no two cards are the same. In addition to her popular creations, Diana also accepts orders for custom cards. She particularly enjoys making Just Because cards as they celebrate the simple moments and can often catch the recipient by surprise. Every card is one of a kind, as is every relationship.

Photo by Alex Banman

Diana made her first card about four years ago. She refers to this moment as her “happy accident.” A good friend was going through a particularly difficult break-up and Diana wanted to show her support by getting her a card. She went to Hallmark and Carlton Cards and looked for a card that was fitting. She saw Cheer Up cards, Get Well cards and Sorry for Your Loss cards, but she could not find a single one made to mend a broken heart. So Diana decided, “Well I’m gonna make one then.” She went to the dollar store and bought needles, thread, buttons, and cool paper, handcrafting a card with a mended heart and inscribing it with a quote from the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz: “Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.” Diana didn’t know that the simple desire to craft something special for her friend would one day become a business.

“I couldn’t believe that someone wanted to pay me money for something that I did at my kitchen table…this is arts and crafts! …To me it wasn’t work”

The following holiday season, Diana made cards for her regular customers at the pub where she works. They were amazed by the cards and were curious to know where she had gotten them. “Oh, I made them!” she smiled, proud to have her craft mistaken for store-bought. From that day on, people started asking Diana if she could make cards for birthdays and anniversaries. “I can try!” she promised. When she wasn’t working at the pub she went to paper shops and craft stores to gather materials. The more she bought, the more variety she had left over to work with, so before long she was making her own designs. Card making unexpectedly became Diana’s new hobby.

Once Diana had a small collection of her creations, she decided to test her product with the general public. She rented a table at a small semi-annual market and was pleasantly surprised to find how much people really liked her cards. “I couldn’t believe that someone wanted to pay me money for something that I did at my kitchen table…this is arts and crafts! …To me it wasn’t work, …I wasn’t thinking of it as a business at this point; I was just thinking of it as something I love to do,” Diana says. From there her craft slowly grew into the Cards Made Beautiful brand.

“It took a while for me to wrap my head around that I can’t make everybody happy, and [that] this is not going to be for everyone, [but] it doesn’t mean that I’m less successful or that what I’m doing is less valuable”

Diana’s challenge early on was deciding how to price her product. She was undervaluing her craft at first and listening to too many opinions. It took some time to figure out but Diana found her price point: her cards are priced at $10 and $12, and custom-made ones sell for $25. “I’m a niche business. …It took a while for me to wrap my head around that I can’t make everybody happy, and [that] this is not going to be for everyone, [but] it doesn’t mean that I’m less successful or that what I’m doing is less valuable,” she shares. 

While the personalized cards are fun to make, they can also pose a creative challenge to Diana. A customer tells her what the occasion is and gives her a few details about the recipient’s personality, and then she creates. Sometimes when she gets a custom order in her mailbox, “I do get that little ball that drops in my stomach, like ‘Oh gosh, please let this be something I can do!’” she admits. One description she received was: “My mom is a retired teacher, she always dressed like a witch, eats Lay’s potato chips and drinks red wine.” It can be tricky to combine all the details the customer wants into a creative and cohesive design with a cute or clever message for the card. “…The card has to still look nice, …it still has to make sense…it’s still a piece of art,’’ Diana adds. Diana also needs to choose the best materials to make the card and find a way to adhere them invisibly and securely. She likes to use a variety of textures on her cards but certain materials (like pop can tabs, seashells, or copper wire) can be hard to work with. Despite the occasional artist’s block, she enjoys making the custom cards because they push her creativity.

Photo by Alex Banman

Diana’s next challenge will be scaling up. Although the only marketing Diana has done for Cards Made Beautiful is word-of-mouth and Instagram organic posts, Diana is quite busy. She receives orders online through repeat customers or Instagram and she has a little store at the Toronto Designers’ Market on Queen West. She is working on getting a website and is learning about social media advertising. “I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing because word of mouth is spreading and I am getting busier…so I’m definitely moving in the right direction – I’m not moving backwards. I’m moving forwards; I’m just very nervous to advertise,” says Diana. 

Naturally, Diana wants her business to grow but she admits she is worried about getting too busy to keep up with the demand, and about her product losing the personal touch. She doesn’t want to get a cutting machine that will cut shapes for her because then her pieces will be mass-produced and her value proposition is that every card is one-of-a-kind. She likes the process of creating the cards as much as people like giving and receiving them; “I enjoy the handmaking…and then it’s a piece of art,” she explains. People have been appreciating the cards as art and framing them so Diana is thinking of selling frames as an add-on. She is also considering hosting card-making workshops because she loves the human interaction that her cards encourage. She is deciding what her next steps will be, but there are many ways she can grow.

“Something that I made…something that brings me joy, …now it’s bringing someone else joy, in someone else’s home.”

“I can do what I do because I know what looks good,” says Diana. She has an eye for making things beautiful; she knows which colours, patterns, and textures work well together. Thanks to her creative eye, Diana was invited to start a new business with a graphic designer and a social media expert. The team started UNISON PROJECT, a pop-up space for local entrepreneurs to showcase their creations. They provide a platform for established and upcoming brands to sell their products and foster collaboration. Working on a small budget, Diana designed the interior of the market and handcrafted the decorations, furniture and display shelves for UNISON PROJECT’s first event. It was a great success and they plan to run pop-up markets once a month. UNISON PROJECT allows her to grow as a designer and make furniture while also giving her a space to showcase her cards and test out new designs. Perhaps one day she will expand the brand to sell furniture as well. Diana’s talent in card making got her noticed and opened the door to new opportunities.

Photo by Alex Banman

Diana is motivated by the positive comments she receives. She often gets phone calls and messages from customers thanking her and sharing how much the recipient loved the card; “That’s what makes me do this!” she exclaims. “To me, that’s success. …It’s not the money, it’s not how many cards, …it’s the feedback I’m getting in knowing that…something that I made…something that brings me joy, …now it’s bringing someone else joy, in someone else’s home. …For me, that’s what Cards Made Beautiful is about,” she smiles. 

From production to sale, a card from Cards Made Beautiful spreads happiness continuously. Every card Diana creates is handcrafted with careful thought and purpose. Once it is sold it brightens someone’s day. When it is given away it strengthens the bond between giver and recipient. Years later it becomes a memento of their relationship. A small card can make a big difference. 

We cannot predict the future, nor control the movements of the butterfly effect, but we can generate positivity around us. We have the power to spread joy; which can be as simple as passing on a smile, a hug, or a card. Our small gestures will multiply into great effects with reach around the world. We can create positive change for the present, and the future, one mindful action at a time. 

Photo by Alex Banman

Diana’s cards are available on Instagram and at Toronto Designers’ Market

UNISON PROJECT’s next event will be at the beginning of August.

Published June 12, 2019

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